"Oh wassail oh wassail from all over town
Our ale it is white and our cider is brown...
Come, the darkest night
Come, new light at dawn
Aset, bring the child of promise,...
First, allow me to apologize for being out of the loop for about a month. Between Thanksgiving, holiday shopping, and coming down with some mutant offspring of the bubonic plague, writing anything of merit has been difficult. Second, allow me to also apologize for not having any funny memes in this post; I'm still recovering from the cold and I don't feel particularly equipped for humor. Also, this topic is serious enough that I fear humor would detract from it. Now, with that out of the way, let's move right along.
On December 21st, Heathens United Against Racism will be holding an international event. Heathens, Asatruar, and Norse Polytheists across the world will be raising scorn poles, or Nidstang, against the undesired racialization and radicalization of our religious paths by extremists. Months ago, the founder of that group, (Ryan Smith) asked if some of the membership would be willing to write anything to spread the message. I was eager to assist, but found myself hard pressed to write something I was satisfied with. After some work and soul searching*, I came up with the following thoughts.
Let's cut right to the chase; the racialist minority in Asatru and Heathenry is a group of disturbed people. There is no other way that I can phrase it, and I do not consider such language inflammatory or inaccurate. There is nothing within the history and anthropology of the cultures that first honored the Norse gods which supports a ethnic supremacy mindset. Tellingly, it also possesses no representation within the myths and tales that represent our religious heritage. With these things in mind, it becomes clear what the catalyst for such a philosophy truly is; fearful and/or angry people projecting their own hatred and biases onto a religion in order to give them the pretension of legitimacy. It a tactic that is ages old, and one which causes no lack of frustration and anger.
It is easy to hate such groups. Actually doing it, however, is a trap. In fact, it's the same trap they've fallen into themselves. I'm not going to go forth and do a stupid thing, simply because my reasons have better intentions. Their hate speech is a language of madness. Within that madness, however, is the best solution they think they have to a problem they cannot properly define. They are dangerous people to be sure, but they are also tragic.
I'd say that the actions of many who think like them come from a need to be the victim, and to not be the persecutor. A need to say, “No, really...everything I do isn't related to some irrational fear that equality will lead to me being treated as some of my ancestors may have once treated others! It's a war, and if I don't fight it the white race will be unable to prosper because of....reasons”. A need to find a way to believe that such tripe is actually a valid concern. To say otherwise, in their mind, is to promote white guilt.
Allow me to address that. You see, I'm not a land owner in the pre-civil war South. Further, I'm not a member of the Nationalsozialismus in Holocaust Germany. I didn't hold power in Apartheid era South Africa, nor did I lead Aboriginal Americans to their deaths along the trail of tears. I don't bear shame or guilt for these actions, because I didn't do them. When someone goes to great lengths to legitimize such terrible deeds, they do not appear as men and women who are attempting to triumphantly repeal the march of “Liberal Revisionism” (or whatever the kids are calling it these day); they look like someone who is terrified of being connected to the bad guys. It looks like fear and shame, turned into hate.
So, to such people, I offer a small prayer:
To those who would stand with the Aesir and Vanir,
Yet have lost themselves between Midgard and Ginnungap
Between Niflheim and Muspelheim.
Between Courage and Cowardice
I ask the Gods we mutually stand with,
To stand by you and guard your way home.
When you first stand before the Bifrost,
May Heimdall help you cross and guard you from distractions.
When you stand within the Asgard,
May Thor show you true strength and courage.
When you think upon your past,
May Loki leave your mind unclouded by pretty lies
When you find your heart and head,
May Eir help them heal and grow strong
When you cross into the Gladsheim,
May Frigg smile at your passing and embrace you as her own.
And May Odin show you the true wisdom of the nine realms.
And when you pass some day,
As both cattle and kinsmen are wont to do,
May Hel give you the peace of your greatest moments,
And let time and eternity wash away the worst.
I hail the Gods you worship.
I hail your ancestors.
May it be that someday I can hail you as well.
The chart cast for the moment of the Winter Solstice — when the Sun enters Capricorn — is predictive for the three months ahead, and when the chart is cast for the capital of a country, it is predictive for that entire country. As we spiral in towards the next solsticial shift — from dark to light here in the northern hemisphere, and from light to dark in the southern — we are caught up in planetary energies that demand change, and change often demands the destruction of the old before the new is birthed. It is the light within us — our inner Sun — that gives us the vision, energy, courage and strength to build anew in a world in which hi-tech warfare, critical levels of environmental pollution, catastrophic climate change and resource depletion promise a future very different from our present. The challenges are clear, and the Solstice chart offers us insight into the personal and spiritual strategies we can use to meet these challenges with grace, compassion, and courage.
What is bliss, Sarah Ban Breathnach asks in her extraordinary book Simple Abundance. For me, today, it is knowing my loved ones are warm and safe; seeing my youngest child's delight in last night's snowfall; my teenagers' glee in an unexpected snow day; and curling up on the couch to read with a cup of tea at hand and a fire crackling and popping in the fireplace. Outside there are no people: just leaves, squirrels, orioles, sparrows and the occasional stray cat hurrying to whatever under-porch shelter they can find. All is quiet here today, and the cozy rooms my children and I share bespeak a long-ago time.
So my partner and I are currently vacationing in New Orleans. Neither one of us had been to this city before but oh I am glad that we came. This is a city belonging to Bacchus if ever there was one! We've been here only about twenty four hours, and most of that time has been spent meandering through the French Quarter with no destination in mind. We have plenty of time to do cultural things and to shop. For now, we've been trying to get a sense of the city spirit, and a taste of the energy of the city itself.
First of all, there is music everywhere. We're staying in the French Quarter in an old, land-mark hotel and from the moment we walk outside, there are street performers, sometimes several along the length of a block, plying their trade (some with more finesse and talent than others, needless to say). There are living statues, and today a man doing gymnastics on stilts. Wow, that boy could jump! Made my knees ache just watching him. Bacchus is everywhere. Every shop that we've gone by, somewhere there has been His image. It's become a game for my partner -- a Dionysian--and I: who can find the image of Bacchus in this shop? So far, he's winning. There are diviners everywhere. I don't mean psychic shops (though there are those as well doing what they can to capitalize on the notoriety of Voudou mambo Marie Laveau) but rather diviners setting up shop with table and chair all around Jackson Square. I think I counted fifteen in a row and all the while they were reading clients, a jazz band was serenading us in front of the Cabildo....
At the end of 2012, I looked over what I had read the previous year and came up with a list of Literary Discoveries. Considering how much I have read this year -- novels, novellas, anthologies, short stories, essays, longer works of philosophy and history and spirituality -- continuing the tradition seemed like a good idea. And, just like the previous list, not all of these titles were published in 2013 (though most were); I just discovered them this past year.
So, in no particular order, here is my 2013 edition of Literary Discoveries.
1) I read Reza Aslan's No god But God several years ago, and found it to be a well-written introduction to and overview of the theology and history of Islam; this is the book I recommend to anyone looking for a basic primer on the subject. So, when Aslan released Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth I decided it was worth checking out, even though I have very little interest in the development of Christianity -- actually, let me amend that. I find some of the early Christian sects which were later deemed heretical to be interesting, and I've studied the fall of Classical Paganism even though it makes me angry. So, I was curious as to Aslan's conclusions about the carpenter from Nazareth. I won't spoil it for you. Suffice to say, the book was well-researched and engaging, and I highly recommend it to anyone at all interested in Middle Eastern history, the Age of Augustus, or the history and evolution of Judaism....
This Fall I took it upon myself to do quite a bit of canning. This mostly involved jam and fruits. My step-daughter and husband were most excited about the canning of peaches, one of their favorite fruits. After only 2 days of completing the canning process they wanted to open up the peaches and dig in. I firmly objected, "NO! The reason we canned peaches was to enjoy them in the dead of Winter, to have a 'taste' of Summer when things are dark and dismal." I promised my step-daughter we would open a jar to celebrate the return of the Sun on the Winter Solstice. As I prepare my house for Yule I am reminded of this promise and my thoughts turn to the reason why I wanted to learn about canning and food preservation.
Both my maternal and paternal grandparents grew a majority of the food they ate and I have so many fond memories of walking through orchards and gardens as a child eating fresh peas and carrots right out of the ground, my mother encouraging me to try vegetables like broad beans and kohlrabi. I remember shelves upon shelves of jars stored in my maternal grandmother's basement, my paternal grandfathers' stacked up wine making equipment. The joy of eating canned crabapples and ice cream and trying sips of homemade wine after a Xmas feast. As many of these practices my grandparents engaged in were passed on to them by their parents and grandparents, it is so clear to me how connected my ancestors were to the land. Because of this they were intrinsically aware of this coming 'Capricorn' time of year and the need for storing and preparing for Winter; it was essential for survival. I am very fortunate to live during a time where canning is more of a 'hobby' than a need to survive, but I also wanted to learn about it so I could feel connected to this family practice and share it with my child....
The winter solstice is fast upon us, even though technically the shortest night has already been upon us (for a brain-thumping explanation, see http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/12/the-astronomical-hijinks-of-the-shortest-day-of-the-year/282109/). Thoughts turn inwards at this time of year, when in the darkness we are confronted with our shadow selves, should we choose to face them. We have the opportunity to learn more of ourselves, and in doing so, better serve not only ourselves but the world....
Is it better to apologize, or to atone?
I recently had a change of perspective about a Christian friend that led me to explore a bit about why people make decisions, whether consciously or subconsciously rooted in faith. If one accepts that modern social ethic is derived from religious morality (and given the amount of research, it hard to refute it), it makes sense that such religious tenets may bleed into the minutia of day to day life. I find this most evident in the area of transgression and apology.
To set the scene: I had a standing arrangement with a friend to be settled upon my return to the States (I have been overseas since August). In the interest of protecting the identity of the person in question, I will call the person Lori and the arrangement playing a game of billiards. When we settled on our plan in early September, both Lori and I were willing and able to shoot a round of pool and foresaw no reason we would not be able to do so in January....
"...we also come to learn an important thealogical statement: the relationship of self to Goddess is a physical relationship--it is material. It is not a dislocated, distant experience of some far-off Deity 'out there,' but it is embedded within our very bodies and their own rhythms.” --Katie Batten, Goddess Wheel of the Year
When reading Z. Budapest's book, Grandmother Moon, I was surprised to connect very deeply with her Moontale, Moontide, Moonspell model. In the past, I haven’t felt much of an intuitive connection to Budapest’s work, but this concept is different for me.
(Image by shade-of-nekura)
My GF Lauren, looking for Pagan groups in Louisiana the other day (for her social media networking efforts for our PPD) came across an interesting entry on a very popular Pagan/Witch social media site. She pointed out the group's statement to me: "The purpose of this organization or coven is for the reporting of violations in accordance with The Rede, or reporting the use of magic to harm another in any religion path."...
This is an interview between myself and Tara Miller. Tara is a blogger at Patheos for the Staff of Asclepius, and is also the editor of the Anthology Rooted in the Body, Seeking the Soul, which has just been released by Immanion Press. I thought it would be interesting to interview her and learn more about the anthology. Disclosure note: I am the managing non-fiction editor of Immanion Press, but I think that the topic I've interviewed Tara about is one which needs more awareness in the Pagan Community.
1. Taylor Ellwood: What are some common misconceptions around spirituality and people with disabilities? How do you address these misconceptions?
Tara Miller: Several of the contributors said they were told if they believed enough in being healed or had more magical power they would be healed of their disability. Another misconception is that people, like myself, who are born with a disability, have it because they were meant to learn a lesson in this life....
What could be more magical than birthing the return of light into a darkened world?
What could be more magical than dissolving shame and restoring the brilliant shine to a woman's life?
For all its shrillness and glitter, the Christmas season offers us images of Mary, big-bellied, pregnant with the Power of Being, however you might name it.
Allowing ourselves to deepen into those images might well dissolve the shame that so often obscures the light imbuing our bodies. Allowing ourselves to resonate with Mary might well unleash the life-celebrating energy already radiating from our bellies, our body's core.
I'm currently getting into the Yule spirit by reading a new Llewellyn title. The book The Old Magic of Christmas by Linda Raedisch is a collection of Christmas traditions that many of us may not be familiar with. Creatures such as elves, gnomes, and werewolves roam the wintry landscape and leap off the pages. Goddesses and witches also make appearances, which has helped me to look at the Christmas season in a new light.
Yes, this book focuses on historical Christmas traditions, but Raedisch posits that many of these traditions and tales have their origin in Europe's pre-Christian past. I'm inclined to agree. This book really does explore the "old magic" of the season. For instance, there is an interesting tension between the feminine aspect of death and birth in many of the folk customs that are described. Much like the traditional Halloween, there is the juxtaposition of the crone witch with the young woman who tries her hand at fortunetelling for fertility, luck, and husband-seeking.
Winter Solstice is a perfect excuse to wind down for the year. It is happily emphasized since I am on Winter Break for school– hibernating more and going out less. For the last seven years and counting, I have held some sort of Winter Solstice gathering for friends and sometimes family. I have hosted sit-down traditional dinners and the more informal drinks and appetizers only fiesta. We have mulled spiced-wine together, played an old parlor game entitled, "The Minister's Cat," and lit candles. One of my favorite theme ideas was putting a spotlight on the sun: I served spicy Indian food for snacks and the soundtrack featured all songs mentioning the sun. There are a seemingly endless supply of these to choose from.
This year, I am taking some advice from an Indianapolis food blogger, featured in the current issue of Midwest Living. Her article, "Holiday Party Tips From Annie Marshall: Eat Drink and Be Merry," is a great approach to a more relaxed get-together. From hanging treats on an "edible cookie tree," to her insistence on serving a signature drink for the event that you can make a nice big batch of in advance, Marshall knows her stuff. Here is her recipe for Cranberry Margaritas:
Stir up a pitcher of these rosy margaritas for your next holiday bash. The Simple Syrup recipe makes enough syrup for 30 margaritas but is easily halved or quartered....
What is the place of charity in Paganism? Are we MIA or running cloaked? Do Christians have a monopoly on helping the poor or do our sacred stories enjoin us to help? But more importantly, what is the right thing for Pagans to do?
I love this time of year...though I could do without the single to negative digit temperatures. A lot of my traditions haven't changed from what I did as a child in a Roman Catholic household but I do have some additions. Below, in random order, I list some of my holiday traditions.
Mannaz - human- Again we have another reversed Rune presenting us with an opportunity to go deeper within. As Mannaz reminds us of the strength in human connection, the power of acting with All That Is, so it's merkstave position calls us to be aware of when we are not connected, when we don't feel part of the greater flow. Note that Mannaz is pictured upright, or bright-stave.
Last week, Eihwaz encouraged us to change, and Mannaz may be asking us to sit with the effects of that change. It calls us to put down rational thinking and go with gut feeling, which for some may be frightening to do.
Likewise, as this Rune is about connecting with other people, its reversed position gives caution to the way in which we socialize this holiday season. Calling to mind community concerns, it may be helpful to tend the web, itself. It may not necessarily be about any personal need, but to be aware of our interconnectedness, and perhaps give a little extra to the care of our bonds....